Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Britain Yearly Meeting 2010: a personal report

posted by Rhiannon

Firstly, I'd like to welcome any visitors who are here because I mentioned this blog in a Yearly Meeting session.

Secondly, I'd like to apologise to Beeston Meeting for writing so little for you in recent months; actually, I have been writing, reams and reams, but it's almost all been essays and papers and my dissertation. I'm enjoying my course, though, and being in Leeds, and Carlton Hill Meeting.

On to today's real topic: Britain Yearly Meeting 2010. This write-up will be rather impressionistic and very personal, and should not be taken as more than that.

I arrived on Friday evening, met my family at Kings Cross, and was instantly swept into Friends House Restaurant and the gathering throng. One of the chief pleasures of Yearly Meeting is seeing again old friends (later in the weekend, I met a woman whom I once knew well, but hadn't seen for at least ten years. Apparently I haven't changed much!), but another of the pleasures is getting to know new people - sometimes old hands whom one hasn't happened to speak to previously, but also those attending for the first time.

The most important business grouped around three topics: our engagement with the political process, our ministries of giving, and the question of allowing journalists to enter Yearly Meeting sessions.

My main reaction to the first two of these was tears. It's good to hear about other Quakers who are engaging in political work internationally, nationally, and at their local level; but my personal engagement with the political process is at the moment extremely frustrating. I don't think this is the forum in which to go into details, but I will just say that I tend to feel misunderstood, alienated, and lacking in power. I'm glad that not all Friends feel this way.

There are, of course, many kinds of giving: those chiefly under consideration are the gifts we make to the Yearly Meeting, which mostly consist of either service or money. I give some service to my Local Meeting, but none nationally unless we count presence at Yearly Meeting itself; as a student, what money I have has been given by someone else and is firmly marked for a specific purpose, so what I can give on a weekly or monthly basis is peanuts (sometimes literally).

The power of the business method was very clear to me in these sessions. To be open in that way, in that great silence, for nearly seven hours a day, is to make oneself very vulnerable. Nowhere is that clearer than when one is called to speak. I spoke twice to the issue about journalism, and one in non-business worship on Monday afternoon.

On Saturday afternoon, we failed to reach clarity about allowing journalists into Yearly Meeting; I felt that the contributions were, taken as a group, confused and fearful - sometimes for good reason, sometimes not - and this showed again on Monday morning. It becomes clear that when many Friends imagine 'a journalist' they are thinking of a man from a daily newspaper, someone who writes, and whose interests are more secular than spiritual. They aren't thinking of the citizen journalist whom the internet has created - they aren't thinking of me - and they aren't thinking of the religion and ethics correspondents who may be Quakers already. They're thinking of people who probably wouldn't want to come anyway: no sensible fashion correspondent is going to sit through a three-hour silent session in order to be able to report that Quakers frequently wear socks with their sandals, and if they did want to report that, they could stand on the Euston Road and find out the same thing in ten minutes.

This was the point to which I was speaking when I mentioned this blog. Some suggestions had implied that journalists were a distinct breed and could be set apart or asked to introduce themselves: what about me? I asked. Do I count as a journalist, since it's been requested that I write a blog post, which will be published for the whole world to see?

In the end - and I think this was the right choice - we have written a minute which sets out that in principle journalists could be allowed to sit in on some sessions of Britain Yearly Meeting, and asked our Clerks, Agenda Committee, and others to consider how best this could be handled. I hope that we will uphold those doing this service as they seek to discern the best advice to give to Friends on maintaining our discipline while meeting non-Quaker journalists and being themselves citizen journalists, the best briefings to give to any professional journalists who do wish to attend, and which sessions will need privacy or be most interesting for a visitor.

I'm tired now - long days, long commutes, and the trembling that goes with ministry will do that - but happy, and feeling empowered and energised to go forward in my own little tiny involvements in local and national politics, interfaith and ecumenical work, and giving what I can when I can. My thanks to everyone who made Yearly Meeting (and my attendance) possible.